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47th Annual HI Christmas Trip

group photo In December 2003, I drove to San Diego with my recumbent bicycle to take part in the 47th annual Hosteling International (HI) Christmas Trip. This is a supported ride of six days and 400 miles in the mountains and deserts around San Diego. This year we had 65 riders, so somewhat smaller than usual.

I recommend this ride as a good chance for winter cycling, but be prepared for some snow and cold as well. Beautiful scenery, some hills and a fun bunch of people are highlights of the trip. On the downside, roads in southern CA can be busy. The trip was very well organized. Everyone is expected to pitch in with cooking/cleaning/pickup chores. Baggage is carried in a rental truck. Accomodations are at schools/churches in either indoor halls or your own tent.

I enjoyed this ride, sometimes felt challenged the hills and met a nice set of folks. I also cycled this ride last year. Listed below is my journal for the ride along with photos. Click on any photo to get the full-sized original. For those with high speed network connections, I also have a windows slide show (10 mb).

December 25th, San Diego

Merry Christmas! I find myself in San Diego in 2003, just as I was at end of 2002. The occasion is the 47th annual bicycle ride put on by San Diego branch of Hosteling International, American Youth Hostels (HI-AYH). The ride itself begins tomorrow.

When I went on the ride last year, it struck me as a "same time next year" type of ride with multiple people repeating. While, I normally enjoy going different places for variety, I decided on this ride for second year as (1) chance to try my new recumbent bicycle on tour over some mountains (2) a chance to meet some of the repeat participants and (3) generally enjoyed scenery and tour last year, particularly the medium size (85 people in 2002) and semi-formal nature.

My tour easy bicycle didn't fit as easily on airline boxes as my Cannondale. Rather than force it, I rented a minivan and drove. I took a relaxed drive out. First day driving to Nephi, Utah. Second day, I stopped mid-morning in Las Vegas and spent rest of the day wandering through some of the sin city. Today, on Christmas I completed the drive to San Diego arriving before noon.

A steady drizzle put dampers on much tourist wandering around, particularly since most of the city is shut down for Christmas. Hence, after a soggy tourist tramp, a quiet Christmas, reading and getting ready for the ride. Nice to be in San Diego again.

December 26th, Pine Valley

Don explains all entering I-8 eastbound
on the way to Alpine spaghetti A nice ride climbing the mountains above San Diego. Last night had considerable rain, sometimes sheets of water coming down. Certainly glad the ride didn't start a day earlier.

Woke up this morning and did a quick car shuffle. I drove the minivan and dropped off my bag at UCSD by the parking lot under a tree. I then drove back and dropped off the minivan and bicycled back. On return my bag was gone! Uh, oh, who took the bag? I flagged down two employees driving a truck and picking up debris from yesterdays windstorm. Fortunately the remember the bag as well as security picking it up.

We gathered for a 7:30am posted registration. Slowly people came from all over. Don whistled and briefed everyone on the rules. Same as last year, they had rented a rental truck to carry baggage. This year was ~60 participants, so down slightly from last year.

I picked up a route sheet. Waited until 9am for a group start and we were off! Down the hill and along Friars Road. The main group hung together for a few miles, but then became separated by some lights. Hence, I was back to riding with a few others.

Mostly flat the first few miles with gentle hill around mile 12 followed by two miles of trail riding at Father Junipero Serra Trail. Overall traffic not too bad. A little after 20 miles some of the hills started.

My recumbent climbs slower than my Cannondale, though I also felt like I was riding faster than last year. It was also cooler, with a cold trailwind. At mile 24 the real climbing started. A gentle slog through Alpine at 2000ft. Followed the frontage road out of town before entering the shoulder of I-8 at mile 42. A few miles of interstate riding and then off to Descanso exit.

Descanso was nice, with Perkins Country store. It was getting a bit cold so I continued on. From Descanso, one last grade and then two miles downhill and across to Pine Valley.

It was before 3pm and thus earlier than last year. A small group was clustered in front of the door waiting for someone to arrive with a key. The "A" group had taken an alternate route (up a dirt road) and weren't yet in. Took a shower, visited with folks and otherwise relaxed as people arrived at Pine Valley. Overall, easier climbing than I had expected from last years ride. Also colder with brief periods of rain and hail today, but mostly sun.

55 miles today.

December 27th, Warner Springs

we're bicycling this? beautiful riding on the Sunrise Highway A cold ride today as we climbed over the Sunrise Highway and into Warner Springs.

Last night was "hot seat", a set of introductions. While a majority of riders are from San Diego or greater Los Angeles area, a few other places are well represented: New York City with five, Seattle and the San Francisco Bay area with at least five as well. Otherwise, just a handful from elsewhere, e.g. Salem, Oregon; Michigan and myself from Colorado.

Approximately half the riders are new and the other half have ridden multiples, some 15 or more times. The youngest rider is 8 and was on ride last year. Her hotseat entry included a song about riding on the tandem. The oldest riders are in their 70s. On average, seems like most in their 30s and 40s.

Clear skies last night and temperatures in the 20s this morning. Quite cold for some of these from San Diego. I helped stack tables and chair, loaded the truck and set off.

slick icy The first 9 miles of the ride climb to 6100 ft. As we passed 4500ft the road became quite slick. Snow along the way and families out sledding. Usually it was good to ride in the snow, though occasionally had to cross patches of ice. I slid once but caught myself. I also walked one stretch that was too slick. In talking with others, it seems like most slipped and a amjority even fell. So, going up I was perhaps slightly better than average despite being the only recumbent on the ride.

At 11 miles was the Laguna store and chance to catch my breath. After the slick conditions, several decided to sag. I figured I would just go carefully. As I descended, most of the ice patches were sanded and not too bad.

At 14 miles however, before I knew it, I slid out and was on my side in middle of the road. Nothing seriously hurt, but took me a bit to climb out of the body sock and get going again. I walked a bit further and then rode again. Fortunately in next few miles it got progressively better and eventually even dry road. Yesterday had come through several burn areas and we also came through some large burned places on way to Julian. Signs of "icy" mixed with signs of "blowing ash". A climb at mile 17 but mostly downhill and good coasting.

At mile 25 I turned right and followed busier roads into quaint town of Julian at mile 31. Many tourists on the main street, horsedrawn carriages and too cute shops. I got lunch here.

Warner Springs Katrina's massages From Julian we decended on quiet and pretty country road before coming back to main highway. Followed this downhill through Santa Ysabel and then turned north at mile 40.

A somewhat busy road without much in shoulders, but except for gradual climb over a summit, it was fast riding. Made my way into Warner Springs. Waited for the truck and then helped unload.

Over evening people compared notes of ice and sliding. Quite a few sagged today to avoid worst icy spots. Most fell, and once woman may have fallen more seriously. Hopefully ok.

We're camped in a number of the classrooms here. A few in tents but most in the various rooms. Tomorrow should be warmer with no ice.

54 miles today. dinner under the disco ball

December 28th, Palm Desert

descent! Boreggo Springs A beautiful ride today, with lots of sun and not too much wind. Last night was supposed to be a tire changing contest, but the crowd quickly dwindled after dinner and wasn't enough energy or people left.

The normal "posted" start time is 9am, but I decided to leave early this morning, at 6:45am. The official route was almost 100 miles, with an alternate shorter route of 65 miles but climbing over 5000 ft. I knew I could do the distance if I had enough time.

I was the first to leave. It was still cool and the sun was just coming up. A slight downhill to junction of S-22. A number of RVs, jeeps, dune buggies and others passed me. From S-22 junction a gradual climb of 1450ft over the next 12 miles. I passed small town of Ranchita and shortly thereafter crested the hill at 4200ft.

Descent! The next 13 miles the road zoomed downhill. Brakes on my recumbent worked better than my Cannondale. I could see the desert far below. At 9:30am I came into Borego Springs and stopped briefly at the store. From Borego, the road went 30 miles across the desert. The first 15 miles were mostly level with slight uphill. After that a good descent down to Salton City where I arrived just before noon.

Salton City mural From Salton City, the CA 86 was two lanes each way, but with good shoulder. Traffic gave me plenty of room and it quick riding along Salton Sea. At 69 miles a turn onto 86. This next stretch went through citrus and date orchards. I was starting to slow, but still making ok time. After mile 90, a cyclist passed me, first person to pass me from today.

It became more urban, even with blue grass and golf courses as went the last few miles into Palm Desert. Yeah, nice to arrive after long and pretty ride at 3:45pm.

There were a number of bicycles already there. All except for one had come over the top or sagged today. Nice long ride. 99 miles today.

December 29th, Hemet

Jennifer, Henry, Gary dinosaurs! An easier ride today. Last night some talk of "the wind" we expected today. Those of us who remembered last years strong winds helped worry those who were on their first trip. Fortunately, almost no wind today.

This morning we packed everything up and left in a group start at 9am. This meant a large gaggle of riders the first few miles. There were many stoplights as we went through Cathedral City and then Palm Springs, so got separated from the group. All fairly quick and good city riding. It definitely looked artificial to have so much green grass here in the desert.

At 17 miles was the first turn onto San Rafael and then right onto 111. This was place where heavy winds started last year, but flags nearby were completely calm. Yeah! A very gentle grade still kept the speeds down, but otherwise much quicker passing by the still wind turbines.

At 27 miles came up to I-10 and rode along shoulder for brief bit before getting onto the frontage road. At next exit was Cabezon, lunch and several large dinosaurs.

After lunch continued along the frontage road before going up and around through the Morongo Indian reservation. Came back down into Banning and the Beaumont. A large group was passing, so latched on and rode with them to mile 46, when they turned off to McDonalds.

stop to fix a flat adopted stray Another nice downhill and descent of 1000 ft into valley with Hemet. Completely flat at the bottom. Rode across for a few miles before riding on State Street. This road deserves prize for worst road. Came through city streets and reached the Presbyterian Church Family Center at 3pm. Nice easy ride of 61 miles today.

December 30th, Fallbrook

waiting to ride climbing from Tecumula Today a nice ride in two parts: first flat and then hilly. Last night they showed video from last years trip. Especially nice to see since I had ridden that ride.

Yesterday the ride picked up a dog. One rider was stopped along the freeway when a puppy came up. They somehow determined it was abandoned, got the sag to pick her up and ended up getting the dog to a vet. A couple from Lake Arrowhead will adopt her.

Weather forecasts looked scary but it was dry in the morning. A good breakfast and I helped load the truck before starting out before 9am. A few turns and I was cycling through flat farmland. Not much planted in the fields.

At 15 miles turned south along a frontage road on I-215. A sign stated "road closed". I went forward anyway. At the closure, they waved me through. A vapor barrier had already been tarred down, and they were placing asphalt. Fortunately, was still able to ride through.

At next exit, through Murrietta, down a hill and then on Jefferson St that was getting progressively more busy. I joined a group stopped for lunch at Del Taco.

country roads At 31 miles the road turned right and sharply up the hill. The next 24 miles were beautiful, but very hilly. I had to get good at shifting in low gear. Some vineyards and also fancy houses as the road wound back and forth.

At mile 45 a left turn, a few rolling hills and then a steep climb up above Santa Margarita Canyon. Across the canyon, up another hill and into Fallbrook.

A nice ride overall. 55 miles today.
ripe heels dinner

December 31st, San Diego

New York City Seattle Grizzley Peak
One last day cycling to San Diego. Warmest weather yet, clear skies and light tailwinds made for wonderful ride.

Last night was "awards night". Each person was asked to bring a t-shirt as an award. The types of awards gave a sense of the type of trip. Multiple friendship type awards to those helpful, organizing pacelines, fixing flats, etc. A few humerous awards such as one for "backwoods lore" on a woman who instructed others on procedures for going to restroom in the woods. It was fun.

This morning we had a group photo before taking off at 9am. Initially a a nice descent down from Fallbrook to the river drainage. We picked up 76 (Mission Road) after six miles. I was with a group of seven others and we missed a turn at mile 8.4. Oh well, continue on 76 as it became busier. I saw the route again a few miles later and we headed up the hill and through Oceanside.

make way end of the trip Reached the shore at 20 miles. Lots of surfers out and people along the shore. Headed south at reasonable speed through small communities. At 45 miles a 500 ft climb over Torrey Pines hill.

After Torrey Pines some more complex riding along local streets and bike paths. All too soon, trip was finished. I continued to the airport, rented a minivan and drove back to UCSD to pick up my baggage from the van. Nice ride overall. 59 miles today.


Mike's other bicycle trips
San Diego Hostels